The Bird and the Dome

I slide through a gloomy hole in the thick curtain of clouds, dropping one thousand feet per minute in a dented aluminum bird—a poor imitation of what nature has already produced, without the aid of engineers and coarse manufacture. Through the ice air and the gray puffs of moisture opposite a finger-smudged porthole, I can make out the hazy halos of the pink-orange street lamps that dot the plains—those unmanned watchtowers of pale light, faceless sentinels who safeguard their slumbering demesne against the invading dark.

        All is vulnerable in the dark.

I see the sharp overlapping cones of automobile headlights gliding in miniature down the thin stripe of the interstate highway. I imagine them as double-knit lanterns affixed to the prows of rectangular wooden barges. A weather-hardened, ancient ferryman noiselessly poles his shivering passengers over deep black waters, drifting slowly toward the familiar.

        Home is a lie.

I called it home, this underneath topography draped in shadow and caked with snow. It was home. It was home inasmuch as any sprawl of geographical features can be home. It was what I knew—usual and warm. Like a concept drawing for some insulated Martian habitat, home was a pressurized plate glass dome, under which the prevailing air current was the gentle draught of the ordinary. Occasional anomalies could be attributed to an aberrant gust from some unknown alien influence.

        Everything must change.

This proud chamber of polished metal and glass was safe. My dome was safe until the very first itch of the very first crack rose to life in the middle of the very first hexagonal pane of its broad, arching skeleton. What caused this minute rupture? It could have been a flock of migrating bumblebees, a testy meteorite, an errant ball from a ground-fired BB gun or someone’s trumpet blown a touch too loudly at band practice. It could simply have been a result of the regular shifting in the foundation of any rigid structure as it settles over time. It could have been nothing at all—just the inherent chaos of the universe at play.

        The “why” is immaterial.

One crack is nothing. One crack is no more than an imperceptible imperfection on the proud face of an infinite being. One crack can be ignored indefinitely. One crack can be polished out with some wax and bit of elbow grease. But, as tends the instinct of the iron jaws of nature—between whose unyielding teeth all our fates are clamped—one crack becomes two, two become four and so on, until the webs of their innumerable, thin searching fingers rocket apart like a half dozen lightning storms through the whole of the above. Reality implodes in a hail of shards.

        I stand hip-deep in broken glass.

The plane banks and my temple bops against the fuselage wall. The captain drones something over the intercom. The tone of his voice is pallid and enthusiastically unsaturated. I don’t listen; I watch. I watch through my smudgy porthole to the world outside. I see a swathe of water-slick tarmac traced with colored lights—lights that will guide this bird to roost, if only for a short time. With a jostle and a screech and a waft of rubber smoke, the landing gear takes the weight of our vessel as the air hands us to the ground.

        I am home.

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